Neonicotinoid Pesticides


Backgrounder - November 2016

What are neonicotinoid pesticides and how are they used in Canada?

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides that are used to control insects on a variety of agricultural crops, including seed treatments, and on turf and ornamental plants. Although primarily used in agriculture, neonicotinoids can also be used domestically for various applications such as managing insects on lawns.

Are neonicotinoids a danger to health?

To date, there has been no indication that neonicotinoids pose a risk to human health, including from exposure through drinking water or food, when used according to current label directions. Health Canada scientists routinely re-examine pesticides that are registered in Canada to ensure they continue to be safe for humans and the environment.

Do neonicotinoids pose potential risks to the environment?

The proposed re-evaluation decision for imidacloprid has identified potential risks to aquatic insects (e.g., midges and mayflies), which are important food sources for fish, birds and other animals. In some aquatic environments in Canada, imidacloprid is being measured at levels that are harmful to these insect populations.

Based on these findings, Health Canada is initiating special reviews for two other neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which are also being detected frequently in aquatic environments.

Are neonicotinoids a risk to bees?

Bee health is complex and many factors are involved, including weather, disease and hive conditions.

In 2012 and 2013, there were reports of bee deaths linked to exposure to the dust created from planting corn and soy seeds treated with neonicotinoids. In response, Health Canada introduced new planting rules in 2014 to reduce dust when planting this type of treated seed. With these new requirements in place, the number of reported bee deaths from pesticide exposure has been reduced by up to 80%.

How is Health Canada monitoring bees?

Health Canada continues to work with the provinces to monitor bee deaths to see if they are a result of exposure to pesticides, including neonicotinoids. A preliminary risk assessment for one of the neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, was published in January 2016. It showed that, as long as the strict precautions required by Health Canada were being followed, this type of neonicotinoid did not present an unacceptable risk to bees. Similar risk assessments are under way for two other neonicotinoids: clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

A complete assessment of all potential risks to pollinators is expected to be completed in 2017.

What are the next steps?

The environmental assessment of imidacloprid identified risks to aquatic insects, such as midges and mayflies, which are important food sources for fish, birds and other animals.

To address the risks identified, Health Canada has also published a proposed risk management plan for public comment, which includes a proposed three-year phase-out of agricultural uses of imidacloprid in order to address risks to aquatic insects. In some cases, where there are no alternative pest control products available, a longer phase-out transition period of five years is being proposed.

Health Canada is consulting on these proposed mitigation measures, and the final re-evaluation decision and risk management plan will take into consideration any comments received during the consultations. The consultation phase includes a 90-day commentary period in addition to a multi-stakeholder forum that would discuss any proposals for potential alternative mitigation strategies that would achieve the same outcomes in a similar timeframe. However, any proposals for continued registration would need to clearly demonstrate concrete actions that would ensure that levels of imidacloprid in water would be reduced below the level of concern.

In addition, the Department is conducting special reviews for two other neonicotinoid pesticides: clothianidin and thiamethoxam. A special review is initiated when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the health or environmental risks, or the value (including effectiveness), of a pesticide is unacceptable. In the cases of clothianidin and thiamethoxam, special reviews are being initiated based on concerns identified by Health Canada from available scientific information that these two pesticides are frequently being detected in aquatic environments in Canada.

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